Casual eatery Mezeh makes its debut in Charlottesville and more local restaurant news

Mezeh Mediterranean Grill allows you to build your own meal with options such as spicy chicken shawarma or falafel, topped with a variety of additions like Lebanese tabbouleh
and hummus. Photo: Tom McGovern Mezeh Mediterranean Grill allows you to build your own meal with options such as spicy chicken shawarma or falafel, topped with a variety of additions like Lebanese tabbouleh and hummus. Photo: Tom McGovern

Casual eatery Mezeh makes its debut in Charlottesville

Pick your base, pick your protein, pick your veggies—it’s not a new concept by any means. But Charlottesville’s selection of fresh, healthy, build-your-own rice and salad bowls just got bigger, and there’s a new cuisine in the mix: Mediterranean. Introducing Mezeh Mediterranean Grill, a fast, casual restaurant inspired by the flavors of Greece, Turkey, Lebanon and Israel that just opened across from Trader Joe’s in The Shops at Stonefield.

“We saw a need to offer people a healthy choice and flavorful foods that would be affordable and convenient,” co-owner Steve Walker says. “Studies show that the Mediterranean diet is healthy and good for you, so we saw there was an opportunity to develop a concept like this.”

Walker has been in the food biz ever since he stumbled on a back-of-the-house restaurant job in college. A Johnson & Wales University grad who’s worked in restaurants in Boston and Chicago, Walker teamed up with Saleh Mohamadi and Tai Chiao to open Mezeh’s doors for the first time in Annapolis, Maryland, three years ago. Since its inception, the eatery has made its way down the Commonwealth, with six locations now open and another half dozen on the horizon, including Richmond.

Complementing the orange and gray decor designed to be reminiscent of colorful, decorative Mediterranean tiles are shelves lined with giant glass jars filled with spices and ingredients that Walker says the kitchen takes down to use on a regular basis, plus jars of bright pink and orange pickled vegetables.

The house-pickled turnips, onions and carrots are just a few of the freshly made items available for you to pile on your rice bowl, salad, pita pocket or flatbread wrap. Alongside those veggies behind the counter are toppings such as Turkish salad (chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, green peppers, parsley and lemon juice), Israeli couscous (with peppers, onions, currents, turmeric, cumin and olive oil), Lebanese tabbouleh (with fresh parsley, mint, bulgur wheat, lemon juice, tomato and olive oil), olives and chickpeas. There are also three different types of hummus (plain, spicy and cilantro), marinated vegetables, spicy, creamy feta cheese and sweet, smoky caramelized eggplant. As for the proteins, choices include beef kefta (meatballs), spicy lamb kefta, chicken kebab, falafel and both steak and chicken shawarma.

The shawarma meats marinate all night in a concoction of yogurt and about a dozen spices, and they’re grilled on the flattop throughout the day. The menu warns that the chicken is spicier than traditional shawarma, and it’s not kidding—just like several other items on the menu (such as the spicy hummus and s’hug sauce), the chicken has a bite to it.

Walker is the first to admit that the selection of food available at Mezeh may not be exactly what you would find in restaurants overseas.

“We don’t necessarily want to be known for having the most traditional tabbouleh,” he says. “We want to create very flavorful food, and sometimes what’s most authentic is not the most flavorful.”

To wash it all down, Mezeh’s beverage line features a selection of Boylan Cane Sugar Sodas, plus house-made juices such as kale, beet and apple, lemon-lime with mint, cucumber-mint and the surprisingly mild cranberry-orange with cinnamon and jalapeño.

For more information check out the Mezeh Charlottesville Facebook page.

Sweets spot

The Downtown Mall just got a little sweeter. Kilwins, a franchise ice cream, chocolate and fudge shop with locations across the Mid-Atlantic that boasts the tagline “Sweet in every sense since 1947,” has joined the tribe of dessert-slinging spots downtown. Next door to Splendora’s and owned by Kip and Jessica Pastermack, Kilwins opened for business last Monday.

The extensive selection of sweets includes homemade ice cream in flavors such as cappuccino chocolate chip, marshmallow s’more, toasted coconut and the top-selling salted caramel. According to Kip Pastermack, the treats on the right side of the display case (such as the mocha truffles and cashew turtles) are shipped from Petoskey, Michigan, where the original Kilwins candy-making machine still churns out the classic chocolates and distributes them to every location. The left side of the case holds the made-in-house items such as chocolate-dipped pretzels, nonpareils and a dozen different fudge flavors, which Pastermack says will rotate seasonally.

For more information, check out the Kilwins Charlottesville Facebook page.

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